“This is the most beautiful place on Earth.” That’s what my 12-year-old son whispered as we drove down the mountain pass on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Getting a boy of his age to look up from his phone is no easy feat. The island had his attention.

But capturing someone’s attention is only the first step. To reach true engagement—the ultimate goal—that person needs to go through several stages.

So how can you influence anyone—whether a 12-year-old or an employee—to be engaged with anything? Don’t tell my kids this: it’s learning. Learning is the underlying process that moves an individual from just being aware to feeling engaged. My family’s two weeks in Hawaii helped me recognize three effective communication strategies to help the process along.

1. Serve up the bite/snack/meal approach

Hawaiian example: Pearl Harbor National Memorial
We arrived early knowing we’d spend at least a few hours, which could easily turn into a full day soaking up the site’s history. We could:

  • Take a bite with the 25-minute documentary and short boat ride to the sunken battleship’s memorial. (The experience is very emotional, so bring tissues!)
  • Snack on the audio tour of the museum exhibits and waterfront displays.
  • Savor the full meal by touring the battleship USS Missouri and submarine USS Bowfin to get an in-depth understanding of the role these ships and the harbor played in World War II.

Why it works:
Being in control of how much information I consumed and at what speed, gave me an experience tailored to my needs.

What you can do:

  • Develop an email that provides a headline and quick snapshot of key project updates. Link to the full story for more detail.
  • Create a video teaser for the latest town hall. Follow it with video briefs to highlight the town hall’s key messages and provide a link to the full meeting video.
  • Introduce a team with an organizational chart or infographic. Then provide descriptions of each role, followed by in-depth profiles of each team member.

2. Embrace the power of immersive storytelling

Hawaiian example: Iolani Palace
As the only royal residence on U.S. soil, the home is rich in history. Taking the audio tour, my family and I found ourselves immersed in stories of Hawaiian kings and queens.

One stop on the tour took us to an upper floor window, overlooking the path where, long ago, visitors approached the Palace. The recording tells the story of how Queen Kapiolani watched that path for her husband to return from a trip abroad. What she didn’t know was that he’d passed away during his trip and the celebration she planned would become a funeral. (Gulp.)

Why it works:
Standing in the same window Queen Kapiolani stood more than a century earlier, I was struck by emotion that only a story can evoke. So when you need to compel your employees to action, try telling a story. It doesn’t need to make them cry, but a story will help draw them in and make a human connection with your message.

What you can do:

  • Develop a blog program through which leaders can share how their travel experiences spark thoughts about your organization’s strategy.
  • Pursue testimonials about how your products helped customers solve a problem or an unmet need.
  • Interview members of a successful team and tell how they overcame a challenge.

3. Give your audience a hands-on experience

Hawaiian example: Coconut Island
My uncle is a docent for this 29-acre island—formerly a retreat for the rich and famous and U.S. Navy pilots—now a marine research facility for the University of Hawaii.

The tour brought us to a touch tank holding various types of coral, sea urchins and sea cucumbers, all used to study environmental impact on coral, an essential part of our oceans’ ecosystems. The bright orange conspicuous sea cucumber was by far the most memorable. My son, upon hearing he could touch it, didn’t hesitate to pick one up. He remembers how squishy it felt and how it suctioned onto his hand. But he also recalls how these weird creatures may hold the answer to saving coral reefs around the globe.

Why it works:
As I watched my son’s world expand, I realized how hands-on experience facilitates the learning process by tapping into all the senses. Participatory experiences also help to gain buy-in for an idea or initiative.

What you can do:

  • For your next communication initiative, conduct a planning session with your key stakeholders. Give them the chance to contribute their thoughts about challenges and ideas about how success will look.
  • Don’t just present a new process; be sure to give your audience a chance to practice and get answers to real-time questions.
  • When trying to address a problem, consider conducting focus groups to gather various perspectives.

To feel engaged, employees aren’t that different from most people, including kids. We can’t expect them to learn about anything from passively watching, listening or reading. True engagement requires experiences that allow for discussion, collaboration and emotional connection.

My son remembers the sadness and tragedy of the Pearl Harbor bombing. He recalls the story of a king who died while far from home. And he most certainly will not forget what a conspicuous cucumber looks and feels like. He might even put down his phone long enough to talk about it.

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